Wednesday, 22 February 2017

REVIEW: Double Bill at Newcastle Live Theatre

Live Lab Elevator Festival 2017
Double Bill

Parklife by Mhairi Ledgerwood

Sex With Robots And Other Devices by Nessah Muthy

Newcastle Live Theatre
Until Friday 25th February 2017

Live Theatre have long been associated with new writing and hence it is appropriate that they a running a week-long new writing festival. A number of activities, workshops and productions will run this week. Details can be found here: PREVIEW LINK.

The double bill showcased the work of two writers. We have local writer Mhairi Ledgerwood who has had the opportunity to work up her short 10 minute play, that was first shown in 2014, into a full production. The other play also had its development supported by Live Theatre. Cloakroom Theatre were presented with the Live Lab 2016 bursary. This resulted in both a £2000 bursary plus space and support to develop the new work.  This has resulted in two very different tales which both have an eye on the near future.

Presented by The Six Twenty
Written by Mhairi Ledgerwood
Directed by Melanie Rashbrooke
Starring Amy Foley as Victoria and Chris Foley as Alex

Memories are important to us. They are what make us what we are. It isn’t just about looking forward but about ensuring you don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Let’s face it, that’s why teenagers are full of confidence and solutions whereas their elders tend to be more cautious.

In a scenario that is similar to that faced by the passengers of the Axiom in the Pixar animation Wall-E, a sample of Earth’s inhabitants have escaped a dying Earth.  In order to capture what the Earth was like, the memories of the passengers has been digitally stored. The only difference is that such memories can be manipulated, changed or deleted. Imagine if an inconvenient memory could be wiped out?

My problem is the suggestion that you’d no longer be able to hear music that you’ve deleted from your memory. Surely it would be like hearing the song for the first time? But as you can see, the play was successful as it has created a reaction and a debate.

The play starts with a rapid change of scenes that is quite difficult to watch and piece together the narrative. Persevering with it pays off as the later exposition makes it clear how those initial snapshots tie together into a coherent story.

Mhairi’s script culminates into a moral maze about the ability to re-write or delete our past. Perhaps the current political climate makes that particularly relevant. The emotional abuse of a partner to the point of controlling their memories is an uncomfortable concept. Amy Foley and Chris Foley work well in pulling the many strands together and the lighting design is highly effective throughout the tale.

Sex With Robots And Other Devices
Presented by Cloakroom Theatre
Written by Nessah Muthy
Directed by Bobby Brook
Co-produced by Jennifer Holton and Helen Matravers
Starring Mark Conway, Safiah Durrah and Mona Goodwin

The pedants will point out the play is about sex with androids rather than robots. Leaving that aside, imagine a world in the near future in which you can order a lifelike sex android that looks like your loved one. Its artificial intelligence means that it learns behaviour and language from you. Before you know it the device is able to hold a conversation with you. There is even an app to make it smell like your loved one.

In a production that has sexual, adult scenes and language we are sent through another moral maze.  Is it right to use an android that adopts a personality in this way? Given that we can get attached to our cars, imagine how we’d feel if we broken a machine that has conversations with us and seeks to understand how we feel.

Actors Mark Conway, Safiah Durrah and Mona Goodwin start by busting their dance moves and quite a number of choreographic fillers through between scenes. It is easy to relate to many of the characters. One often finds empathy for the android, especially when relationships become abusive. The production had a number of lighter moments that had a section of the audience laughing. This lightness helped make the dark moments darker.

It is worth noting how both shows were supported by effective lighting and sound design. It is easy to take it all for granted.

Both stories grabbed the attention of the audience. Hopefully they will be a springboard for more plays from both writers. The actors did a great job entertaining the Live Theatre audience in a pair of thought provoking scenarios. 

Review by Stephen Oliver.

The final chance to catch the double bill is on Friday 24th  February. Tickets are £8, £6 concessions
Box Office: 0191 232 1232 or online at
DURATION: Approx. 2hrs 20mins, incl. interval
SUITABILITY: Suitable for ages 16+, contains strong language and sexual references 

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